This article was first written and published for NRL.com.
Often when I need it the most I find reminders all around me that put life into perspective.
I had one of these moments after the final siren in the 2017 playoff between the Parramatta Eels and the North Queensland Cowboys. My beloved Eels lost 24-16 and their first finals series appearance since 2009 was over.
I was at that game with my dad, the man in the world I love the most. Not too far away were some of my favourite Cowboys fans, ARL commissioner Megan Davis and Cowboys CEO Greg Tonner, so I smiled and congratulated them on a job well done.
I was exceptionally disappointed, particularly after the team had had such a wonderful run. As I walked out of the stadium, I had the opportunity to meet two very special people that put things right back into perspective.
Most people in Australia know the story of the Kelly family. In 2012, this family’s life was turned upside down when their son Thomas was killed after being hit by a cowardly punch in an unproved attack in Kings Cross.
When I first heard this story in 2012, my heart broke. On that night when Ralph and Kathy said goodbye to their son as he went out with his friends they had no idea it would be the last time he would respond.
Thomas was a young man with the world at his feet. He loved music, especially the drums, guitar and piano, and was a man of integrity who had passion for rugby, tennis and his pets Snowy, Casper, Molly and Zoe.
It makes me feel sick to the stomach thinking about how Thomas’s death was so unnecessary. The pain this family needlessly went through reduces me to tears when I think about it. We often say, ‘life is short’. But do we really grasp that it is?
Stories like this remind me of the importance of telling your loved ones that you love them, because you never know what is around the corner.
But the Kelly family’s story does not end there. After Thomas’s death, his brother Stuart continued to be of tremendous support to his family and achieved immense success at school in leadership and academics while maintaining a love of life and sport. He was so loved – not just by his family but also by his school community. But in 2016, just after starting university, Stuart Kelly took his own life.
For a couple of years now, I have only had one degree of separation from the Kelly family. My two brothers went to The King’s School, just like Stuart and Thomas, and my mum worked at the school for over a decade.
Thoughts of the Kelly family’s trauma haunted me. I had them in my thoughts and prayers often and more than anything wanted to know how they had the courage to continue to put one foot in front of the other after losing two children in the space of a few years.
Then I met them and was lost for words, but Ralph and Kathy embraced me and I remember putting my hand on Kathy’s shoulder as we spoke.
After having a chat, Ralph said he wanted to give me a gift. After the inaugural “Stay Kind” game last year between Parramatta and the Wests Tigers, each Eel signed the commemorative jersey they had worn. Ralph wanted me to pick one of those jerseys to keep.
Clint Gutherson’s “Stay Kind” jersey is one of my favourite items and it always reminds me of the generosity of two people who made a longstanding choice to be kind, despite what life had thrown at them.
I’m now so proud to call Kathy and Ralph my friends and their generous nature continues to be reflected in the work that they do.
The Kellys started the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation to help educate our communities with a goal of reducing violence associated with alcohol in our community.
The statistics are staggering. In Australia each year there are 70,000 victims of alcohol-related violence, 24,000 victims of domestic violence and 20,000 victims of alcohol-related child abuse. That is eight people for every day of the year. As a society, this is a national emergency.
What is also a national emergency is suicide – 2866 people died this way in Australia in 2016. Initiatives which form part of the foundation all look to help shift these statistics.
As part of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation in honour of Stuart, the “Stay Kind” initiative was launched to help remind us of the importance of being kind to each other.
This Monday, the Eels and the Tigers will play in the second Stay Kind Cup.
But this simple message is so often forgotten. It is often forgotten when we are tired. Or when we are stressed. Or when our footy team is not doing well or when a refereeing decision does not go our team’s way.
But every small act of kindness helps us to create a more generous and compassionate world. That is a world that I want to be part of.
So I have two very simple requests for each of you.
Remember the importance of being kind to the people around you. One small act can truly make a difference. So do something today that will make someone else smile and remember the importance of your words to inspire and to support others, rather than using your words to create hurt and distress.
On Monday, if you happen to be in Sydney and looking for something to do, come out to ANZ Stadium to see the Eels take on the Tigers and support the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation and the ‘Stay Kind’ initiative.
I will be there in my Clint Gutherson jersey, which always reminds of the courage and generosity of two people who continue to be kind to the people around them and to understand the importance of choosing joy.
And even if the Eels end up 0-4 after this game, there are some things that are just far more important than footy.
You can donate to the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation and ‘Stay Kind’ initiative here.
Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services: 13 11 14.